Stay away from the train station, 3.5 readers.
BQB here with a review of Yellowstone.
I’d heard rumors and mumblings that this show was good but avoided it for a long time. I started watching the first season in drips and drabs in late October/early November, somewhere around there, and at first I was a little bored with it but boy howdy if you stick with it, it really hits its stride by season 2.
The plot? Imagine Bonanza but with lots of murder and guns! My late baby boomer parents were huge fans of Westerns and always had their TV tuned to the Bravo Western channel, so I’m sad they missed out on this series because it is one of the best Westerns Hollywood has cranked out in awhile.
If you have never heard of Bonanza, it was the story of a family, the Cartwrights, who pretty much spent every episode protecting their vast ranch from being raided and stolen by a whole host of evildoers. But that show came out when, the 60s? So it was rather tame compared to today’s television.
Yellowstone follows the Dutton family and their multigenerational, longstanding quest to stop a constant onslaught from a seemingly neverending enemies from absconding with their cattle ranch. Seedy developers, crooked gas station casino operators, evil corporations and assorted criminals all want to get their mitts on the land.
In the villains’ defense, the Dutton ranch is said to be enormous, taking up a large part of the state of Montana and is so big it could be considered a state all by itself. Occasionally one of the so-called villains makes a legit point, i.e. why should one family control that much land when no one else is making anymore? The very future of Montana is at stake in that some want the land developed to build houses and businesses and bring more income and housing to the state. Others argue the last is best preserved in the Duttons’ hands as Montana is one of the last few bastions of undeveloped wilderness America has left.
John Dutton (Kevin Costner) is the defiant, stone-faced, tough as nails patriarch of the clan, the latest in a long line of Dutton patriarchs who have been tasked with the job of defending the ranch from villains who want it. Perhaps time is the greatest villain of all, for as we learn, privately owned family ranches and farms are becoming less and less profitable whereas the quickest path toward boku buckaroos is to sell and or develop land.
Hell, John’s adult kids even think maybe the best way to preserve the family legacy isn’t to hold onto the land but to liquidate it so as to preserve the family cash. If you thought your family was dysfunctional, the Dutton family includes Beth (Kelly Reilly) a constantly drunk, openly promiscuous, foul mouthed trainwreck yet somehow still functional to be a stock broker/corporate raider who knows how to use finance as a weapon to wield against the family enemies.
Her nemesis is brother Jamie (Wes Bentley), a Harvard educated lawyer who is highly skilled at using the law to thwart those who want the ranch.
Ah but while Beth and Jamie use finance and the law as weapons, John’s other son Kayce (Luke Grimes), a battle hardened army veteran and John’s ranch foreman/practically adopted son/eventual son in law/Beth’s love interest turned husband Rip (Cole Hauser) use actual weapons to dispatch of the various would be land grabbers who can’t be easily gotten rid of through Beth’s stock manipulations or Jamie’s lawsuits.
Sounds like a large ensemble cast? But wait…there’s more!
Gil Birmingham plays Chief Rainwater, one of the Dutton clan’s most admirable rivals and make no mistake, while there are a lot of scumbags who want the land, there are just as many decent folk with a good argument that the Duttons are, in fact, the ones who are the scumbags. At the top of the list is the Chief and his tribe, who once owned the land now known as the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. While his ancestors tried but failed to keep the land with bows and arrows, Rainwater is on a quest to take back the ranch using his own lawyers, financiers, casino revenue and his Harvard business education. Rainwater is a sometimes frenemy of John Dutton because on occasion, they team up against a scumbag who wants to turn the ranch into an airport or housing or shopping or other developments and Rainwater at least knows that Dutton shares his belief in keeping the land preserved and pristine, though Rainwater does want it back in the hands of the tribe. Rainwater finds help in a whole cast of tribal members as well as challenges from tribesmen and women who want to take over his post because they think they can do a better job of fighting the Duttons.
I could go on and on because the show really is that epic, grand and sweeping in size. Various subplots ensue, each as intriguing as the main plots. The Dutton ranch is run by a large contingent of cowboys (and some cowgirls), many of whom have taken a mafia-esque oath (and literal branding) of loyalty i.e. that they agree to do any dirty job, no matter how evil or illegal, to protect the ranch and in exchange, the Duttons promise they will always have a roof over their heads and a job.
Wow. That’s a lot, right?
But wait! There’s even more!
There are two prequel shows and honestly, the first, 1883, is one of the best Westerns (taking place in the old west and not today) that I have seen in many years.
1883 is all about the Oregon Trail and on the off chance you get to travel back in time and are offered the opportunity to ride the Oregon Trail, please decline, for it was the absolute worst. No other book, show, movie, or yes even the popular video game from my youth has convinced me more that the Oregon Trail sucked so, so much dirty ass.
This prequel follows a very early branch of the Dutton family tree as they make their way west on the trail in the hopes of claiming free land, the thought that the land already belonged to the natives being oblivious to the white pioneers at the time.
Real life married couple/country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill play James and Margaret Dutton who go west with children Elsa and John (Isabel May and Audie Rick.) The show is largely Elsa-centric as she narrates and comes of age on the trail, makes decisions, falls in love, drives cattle, fights off bandits, befriends some natives and fights others. When I watched, I made the joke that Elsa is the 1800s equivalent of the modern college kid who goes off to college then comes home for Thanksgiving freshmen year to inform his/her parents that they know more than the parents do. Elsa falls for a cowboy and suddenly becomes a cattle driver. She falls of a native and is suddenly a native clothing wearing, bow and arrow shooting warrior princess. You get the picture.
Sam Elliot and Lamonica Garrett star as Shea and Thomas, a civil war captain and one of his soldiers, now in the Pinkerton business. A group of German refugees hire them to guide them across the trail and the Duttons tag along. Sam steals the show, lamenting how ill suited the Germans are for the mission (yet somehow this doesn’t stop him from taking the money) and sure enough, sadness, hardship and death are constant companions. In this undeveloped wild country, the body count gets higher and higher with each episode as pioneers fall victim to bandit attacks, native attacks, snake bites, critter bites, some become large animal lunch, disease, bad water, weather, tornados, cold, I mean seriously, holy shit, the Oregon trail really was the worst.
But if 1883 is the story of how the Duttons found the Yellowstone Ranch (found being a misnomer because as the show explains, the natives were already there), then 1923 is the story of an early brutal war to defend it. Harrison Ford and Ellen Mirren star as Jacob and Cara Dutton, the patriarch and matriarch of the early 1900s Duttons. This one just began around the holiday season so I wont give too much away other than to say it pits the Duttons against Timothy Dalton and Jerome Flynn (the first of James Bond fame, the second of Game of Thrones fame), a rival rancher and a rich tycoon who want the land and frankly, like many throughout history, think the Duttons are totally bogarting way too much land. There’s a whole cast of adult Duttons in this generation but the most interesting thus far is Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), a WWI veteran who travels Africa as a big game hunter, too haunted by his war memories to come home but must to help the family protect the ranch.
STATUS: Shelfworthy. So very shelfworthy. Creator Taylor Sheridan (he has a part in the modern Yellowstone as a horse trainer) is the behind the camera star of the series. You might remember him as the police chief on Sons of Anarchy. He really created a whole world here. You wouldn’t think a show about Montana land rights and politics would be that interesting but it is.
Admittedly, at times the show is “a bit much.” Especially in the modern version, it is hard to believe that if so many body bags were being filled in all out war and bloody gunfights over a ranch, that the President wouldn’t declare martial law and take the land over but like many shows, suspension of disbelief is required. You’ll also need to suspend a lot of disbelief over Beth, who literally smokes and drinks enough to bring down a bull elephant every day, yet somehow is able to be a high functioning business woman.
But if you can get past the “bit muchness,” the show is a real hoot and very bingeable. If you have cable, then you should be able to get a free Peacock subscription which will let you watch the first four seasons. At this time, and at least in my understanding, you’ll need the Paramount Network to watch season 5. Not sure of other routes to the prequels though I watched them on Paramount Plus.
SIDENOTE: A year ago I thought Paramount Plus was very silly. Today I’m glad I bought a subscription because with Yellowstone, Tulsa King and a few other shows (there’s a werewolf show with Buffy actress Sarah Michelle Gellar I want to watch but haven’t yet), I think PP is poised to become what Netflix was 10 years ago and HBO was 20 years ago. Netflix and HBO Max, IMO are getting too deep into that hyper woke, devise a movie/show by committee to make everyone happy but skimp on the plot trend while Paramount is making shows for adults who want gritty drama.